Developing the Best Company Core Values: The Ultimate Guide

Company culture can be a hard concept to pin down. Some organizations define it as company outings or team building activities, but at Fond, we define ‘company culture’ as something completely different. Your company culture is the collective behavior of your organization, defined by your company core values. We define core values as ideals that guide organizations on how to make decisions. But how do you develop the best company core values to ensure your company culture is strong and your employees thrive?

The best company core values define your day-to-day work.
The best company core values define your day-to-day work.

Your company core values should be based on what kinds of behaviors you want the people at your company to embody. This concept dives deeper than offsite get-togethers or get-to-know-you games at work. The best company core values communicate how you want your employees to treat each other at work day-to-day.

Having company core values increases your bottom line. This same survey found that 58% of companies with clearly defined core values experienced growth of over 10%, compared to the companies that don’t define their core values. 

But how exactly do you define them?

Why Your Company Core Values Are Essential

The best company core values establish a foundation of behaviors you want your employees to exhibit every day. If you can set the precedence of how you want your employees to behave every day, you’ll pave the way for an amazing company culture.

Give your team a 'why' with the best company core values
Give your team a ‘why’ with the best company core values

If your employees come to work every day confused about how to make decisions and how to treat others, turnover is likely to be higher, employees less productive, and departments more siloed. Management is less cohesive and communicative, and your teams will struggle to work together to get projects done. 

Defining your company core values is essential because it provides guidance and direction — two essential components that every team needs to be efficient and functional.

How to Get Started

First, start by identifying the behaviors you would most like to see your employees display day-to-day. Are you an organization built on collaboration? Hard work? Determination? 

Think carefully before setting your company core values.
Think carefully before setting your company core values.

Do you value a fun and quirky atmosphere or a driven and focused atmosphere? The best way to find answers to get your executive team together and discuss what makes your company great. Start by having each executive highlight three employees they manage and how those employees exemplify behaviors you want to see more of at your company. Talk through specifically what makes these employees outstanding and outline these qualities.

Here are some ideas for questions you can ask your leadership team:

  • Who at our company do you think stands out as a top performer? Why?
  • What do you love about working for our company?
  • What behaviors do you see day-to-day at our company that inspire you?
  • What differentiates us from our competitors?
  • How would you describe our current company culture?

Take notes during the interviews and observe how leadership talks about your company. Do they bring up certain themes and topics often? If so, you can use these to shape your core values.

Your core values shape your company culture in many ways, so be sure to spend time on defining them. We’ll discuss this process in more detail later.

Most Common Company Core Values:

  1. Integrity
  2. Boldness
  3. Honesty
  4. Trust
  5. Accountability
  6. Commitment to Customers
  7. Passion
  8. Fun
  9. Humility
  10. Continuous Learning
  11. Ownership
  12. Constant Improvement
  13. Leadership
  14. Diversity
  15. Innovation
  16. Quality
  17. Teamwork
  18. Simplicity

While these are common core values, this is not a holistic list. The most important thing is that you identify core values that are the best fit for your company and the behaviors you want to see from your employees every day.

Companies with Amazing Core Values

So, now that you have an understanding of core values, you’re probably still wondering where to start when choosing your own. Check out these organizations with amazing core values to get some inspiration.

Google

Mountain View, California, USA - March 29, 2018: Google sign on the building at Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley.
Mountain View, California, USA – March 29, 2018: Google sign on the building at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Google — one of the toughest places to land a job — is also not surprisingly considered to be one of the best companies to work for. Why? Google’s company culture is unparalleled, and much of that has to do with their core values.

In their piece, Ten things we know to be true, Google has a list of their 10 core values that they compiled just a few years after the company was founded:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

These core values reflect Google’s constant push to iterate while maintaining transparency.

Zappos

Zappos has defined strong company core values that resonate throughout the company.
Zappos has defined strong company core values that resonate throughout the company.

Founded in 1999, Zappos.com is an online shoe and clothing retailer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Zappos has a strong company culture that focuses on improving for the long-term. Their culture is built on the ability to scale, and they ensure their core values are able to grow along with the company. Zappos’ core values are:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Zappos uses these core values to embrace the ever-changing landscape of their company, which has led directly to their success in the online market. By forming a company culture around change and innovation, Zappos has continued to stay ahead in a competitive market.

Amazon

Amazon is the largest retailer in the world and attributes much of its success to establishing core values early on.
Amazon is the largest retailer in the world and attributes much of its success to establishing core values early on.

Online retail tycoon Amazon attributes much of their success to clearly defining their core values early on when starting the company.

  1. Customer Obsession
  2. Ownership
  3. Invent and Simplify
  4. Are Right, A Lot
  5. Hire and Develop the Best
  6. Insist on the Highest Standards
  7. Think Big
  8. Bias for Action
  9. Frugality
  10. Earn Trust
  11. Dive Deep
  12. Have a backbone; disagree and commit
  13. Deliver results

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was adamant about creating a succinct list of the company’s core values as soon as Amazon began to gain traction. These values date back to conversations Bezos had with others in 2002 about principles that apply to every single employee of Amazon, from warehouse workers to upper management.

Gusto

Gusto's office - photo from convene.com
Gusto’s office in Silicon Valley – photo from convene.com

Gusto is one of the leading payroll and HR management systems available. Gusto’s company culture is built on believing that work is more than a list of responsibilities, a desk you sit at, or your daily to-do’s.

Gusto’s core values form all aspects of how they run their company. Their core values are:

  1. Ownership mentality
  2. Don’t optimize for the short term
  3. We are all builders
  4. Go the extra mile
  5. Do what’s right

Gusto believes employees aren’t ID numbers — they’re people, and they build platforms that empower organizations to create places where work empowers a better life.

The Container Store

The Container Store is structured around fundamental business philosophies about treating employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and the community with respect and dignity. They call their core values their Foundation Principles™:

  1. 1 great person = 3 good people
  2. Communication is leadership
  3. Fill the other guy’s basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition.
  4. The best selection, service, and price
  5. Intuition doesn’t come to an unprepared mind. You need to train before it happens.
  6. Man in the desert selling
  7. Air of excitement

These Foundation Principles™ emphasize The Container Store’s unwavering support of both their employees and customers.

Workday

Image from Workday
Image from Workday

Workday’s core values provide a framework for how they lead their company and make decisions:

  1. Employees – Most fundamentally, people are the core of our business. Without them, we would not have a business. We hire the best and expect great accomplishments.
  2. Customer service – Every investment and decision we make has our customers in mind, and we pull out all stops to make the satisfaction of our customers paramount.
  3. Innovation – We aim for innovation not only in our development organization but also in the way we approach all aspects of our business.
  4. Integrity – We say what we mean, and mean what we say. We stick to our commitments, treat everyone equitably, and communicate openly and honestly.
  5. Fun – We also feel it’s important to have a sense of humor. We like to laugh—it makes our work that much more enjoyable. We also invest in community and company events that help our employees and their families feel a connection to Workday beyond business as usual.
  6. Profitability – Long-term economic success is what helps us provide employees and customers with the best productivity tools, solutions, and services. While important, profitability is not why we exist. Simply put, at Workday we exist to make and provide great products and services.

Workday’s goal is to avoid office politics and market-mania by focusing on how the aspects of their business made them successful in the first place.

American Express

American Express is a great example of succinct and accurate core values:

Amex is the most widely used credit card in the US.
  1. Customer Commitment: We develop relationships that make a positive difference in our customers’ lives.
  2. Quality: We provide outstanding products and unsurpassed service that, together, deliver premium value to our customers.
  3. Integrity: We uphold the highest standards of integrity in all of our actions.
  4. Teamwork: We work together, across boundaries, to meet the needs of our customers and to help our Company win.
  5. Respect for People: We value our people, encourage their development and reward their performance.
  6. Good Citizenship: We are good citizens in the communities in which we live and work.
  7. A Will to Win: We exhibit a strong will to win in the marketplace and in every aspect of our business.
  8. Personal Accountability: We are personally accountable for delivering on our commitments.

American Express goes above and beyond for their customers every day, and you can see that behavior reflected in their core values.

H&M

H&M is a Swedish retail-clothing company known for their accessible prices and on-trend fashion.
H&M is a Swedish retail-clothing company known for their accessible prices and on-trend fashion.

Individually, H&M’s core values may seem obvious, but together they form a unique company culture. 

  1. We Are One Team – Our great colleagues make the difference. It’s when we share our skills, knowledge and experience we become one team. Diversity makes us strong.
  2. We Believe in People — With belief and trust in the people around you, anything  is possible. That’s why we build our workplace on trust, respect, inclusiveness and integrity.
  3. Entrepreneurial Spirit – The day we stop acting like entrepreneurs, we’ll be just another fashion company.
  4. Constant Improvement — We’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we’re still far from perfect.
  5. Cost-Conscious – Being cost-conscious is about keeping an eye on expenses and making smart, sustainable choices even in the small, everyday things.
  6. Straightforward And Open-Minded – We value diversity in people and ideas, as much as in personal style.
  7. Keep it Simple — The smartest solution to any challenge is often a simple one. So use your common sense.

H&M uses these core values to scale and grow their company, along with building a company culture that extends beyond their corporate offices to their retail environment as well.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines departing Birmingham, AL
Southwest Airlines departing Birmingham, AL

Southwest airlines has the goal of treating their employees as well as they treat their customers, a unique core value that other companies have taken a queue from: 

  1. Warrior Spirit – Strive to be the best. Display a sense of urgency. Never give up.
  2. Servant’s Heart – Follow The Golden Rule. Treat others with respect. Embrace our Southwest Family.
  3. Fun-LUVing Attitude – Be a passionate Team Player. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Celebrate successes
  4. Wow Our Customers – Deliver world-class Hospitality. Create memorable connections. Be famous for friendly service

These core values are all based on strength, respect, and a customer-focused business model.

Next: Choose the Best Company Core Values for You

You’ve addressed why core values are important, outlined how to get started defining the best company core values, and looked at high-quality examples. Now, it’s time to actually define what your core values are. How can you establish which ideals are most important for your company?

Next, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions, keeping the qualities you have highlighted above in mind:

  1. Ask yourself what is true now about your company — you’ll want to create a core value that your company can currently adhere to, otherwise your core values will be aspirational.
  2. Evaluate what your differentiators are as a company and form a core value around those. This core value should be unique and stand apart from other companies (so avoid a value like “integrity” or “hard work”). We recommend that you avoid these generic core values because they border on permission to play values, which won’t help you toward your ultimate goals.
  3. Make sure your core values are non-negotiable, otherwise they will be accidental values.
Interview key stakeholders for input on the best company core values.
Interview key stakeholders for input on the best company core values.

Evaluate the feedback from your interviews with your leadership team, looking for commonalities and themes. Use these themes to put into words what leadership thinks is most important about your company and the culture they want employees to embody. 

Next, it’s important for you to take all this information and distill it into digestible content. You should be able to summarize your company core values in succinct bullet points. Your core values should be:

  • Simple and easy to remember
  • Unique to fit your voice and brand as a company
  • Clear in communicating exactly how (and how not) to make decisions

Present these core values to stakeholders in your company for feedback and iterate until leadership can agree on at least three values to reinforce throughout your company.

Next, Ensure Leadership Embodies Your Core Values

After you have chosen your company core values, you need to reinforce them throughout your organization. Many organizations spend most of their time on creating and communicate their company core values without reinforcing them. As a result, the majority of their workforce quickly forgets these core values and they lose their impact. 

Once your CEO and leadership team understands your new core values, it’s important to educate them on their roles in championing them. The most effective way to do this is to have your leadership team reward and recognize employees for exhibiting behaviors that reinforce your core values. 

Encourage leadership to recognize employees for upholding core values
Encourage leadership to recognize employees for upholding core values.

Establishing a regular cadence for core values recognition is key to ensuring it doesn’t slip through the cracks. Your leadership team should help keep the importance of recognition top-of-mind by sending weekly or biweekly emails reminding them to recognize their team and peers for outstanding behaviors that embody your core values.

When a manager recognizes an employee, the occasion should be one of your company core values, and in the accompanying note of praise should call attention to which core value was demonstrated and how. 

For example, a manager could say, “Neil, you did a great job by helping out with this project and jumping in to lend a hand. You displayed our core value of ‘foster cooperation’ by setting an example of partnering with the team. Great job!”

Finally, this recognition is great news! Share it company-wide where possible, or division-wide at the very least if more appropriate given your organizational structure.

Another way to reinforce your company core values is to identify examples of behaviors you would not encourage. Use hypothetical situations that would be counter to your core values to provide clarity on what behaviors you don’t want to see at your company. Make sure these, along with behaviors you want to see regularly, are communicated to your workforce.

3 Ways to Encourage Employees to Live by Your Company Core Values

1. Host a Quarterly Awards Ceremony

One great way to reinforce your core values is to hold a quarterly awards ceremony highlighting employees who live by your core values. This accomplishes two things: it makes employees feel recognized for a job well-done and it communicates to the rest of the workforce what your core values are. 

The best company core values are recognized often.
The best company core values are recognized often.

Every quarter here at Fond, we have what we call the “Quirkies” where we recognize three outstanding employees for living by our company core values. The awards ceremony is even named after our core values: we call it the Quirkies because one of our core values is “be delightfully quirky.”

The winners are determined by a combination of employee votes and executive team nominations, establishing a mix of peer-to-peer recognition and manager-to-peer recognition. This combination is essential to reinforcing your core values since employees feel more recognized when they know their peers have nominated them, as well as management.

2. Publicly Recognize Employees Who Reinforce Your Company Core Values

We’ve discussed this before: the best way to reinforce your core values is to create a recognition strategy that recognizes behaviors aligned with them. Since your core values serve as a guide for your company culture, recognizing your employees for behaviors you want to see day-to-day will create a lasting change at your company.

The best company core values are reinforced publicly
The best company core values are reinforced publicly

By promoting the right behaviors, you create a consistent company culture. If a core value at your company is, let’s say, “Own the Results,” you can recognize employees for owning up to mistakes or having the vulnerability to admit when a project went off the rails.

For example, let’s say a member of your sales team has a rough call with a prospect and their manager wants to discuss it. If that employee recaps the call with total honesty, citing exactly what went wrong, owning up to their mistakes and asking for feedback, it might be a good opportunity to recognize that person for “owning the results,” good or bad.

3. Offer Tangible Rewards

Rewarding employees tangibly for living by your company core values is an easy way to reinforce these behaviors. Rewards like spot bonuses, wellness programs, lunch brought into the office, and charitable donations help encourage employees to exhibit these behaviors.

Rewards are effective for reinforcing the best company core values.
Rewards are effective for reinforcing the best company core values.

If you go this route, keep in mind that the more specifically you can tailor the reward to the individual employee, the better. Dig a little deeper than going the typical gift card route. Pick a meal or a charity you know your employee loves. Better yet, consider investing in a program that lets you thank your employees with redeemable points so they can choose for themselves which reward means the most.

Acknowledging employees and the important contributions they make to your team by offering them tangible rewards sends the message that you see their hard work—and when that tangible reward truly holds value for them, it’s a message they won’t soon forget.

Final Thoughts

Much like Google, you should aspire to build a workplace where your hiring pool pulls from the best and brightest new minds in the workforce. One of the reasons Google’s interview process is so rigorous is because they want only the best employees who truly align with their core values. At the same time, the best and brightest employees pursue highly coveted opportunities at the Googles of the world because they are driven to work in the best, most rewarding work environments possible. 

Many teams differentiate themselves with the best company core values.
Many teams differentiate themselves with the best company core values.

In this way, having the best core values sparks a positive feedback loop with company success whirring at its center. You take the time to reward your team for living up to the core values that define your organization. This reinforcement makes your values all the stronger and, as employees strive harder to uphold them, your workplace culture becomes increasingly appealing to present and future employees alike. Your talent pool continues to thrive and as a result, so does your company.

It all starts with an intentional choice to build the best company core values possible, and thoughtful strategic plans to ensure they will effectively define your team’s day-to-day operations. Once that foundation is in place, culture will flourish and bring success along with it.

Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.